I Will Never Forget You: The Rescue Movement in the Life of Joan Andrews
By Joan Andrews with John Cavanaugh-O'Keefe
Pages: 253 pages
Review Author: Edmund B. Miller
Bishop Austin Vaughan has said of Joan Andrews that she frightens him, “not because she’s wrong, but because she’s right.” I shared the Bishop’s impression after reading Andrews’s I Will Never Forget You. She is indeed frighteningly right: not in table-pounding rhetoric but in her own quiet example. As Christ personally interceded in history, she personally intercedes at the killing places and is ready to absorb the anger and bitterness that ooze therefrom. She is love in action, not failing to follow where charity leads. Nor is she ignorant of the crosses that charity imposes: She is prepared to die for the unborn, if God wills it.
Contradicting the stock line, “prolifers don’t care about war or capital punishment,” Andrews opposes capital punishment, and opposed the Vietnam War, having joined an antiwar group in college. Her focus, however, was concentrated by the events of Black Monday — January 22, 1973 — when Roe v. Wade announced abortion-on-demand to the nation. Like a tense young man waiting in the dawn of war to join the troops, Andrews waited for the public outcry against Roe v. Wade. But it didn’t come.
Finally she went to Chicago to “smash the abortion weapons,” but comments that her plan didn’t “gel.” A policeman found her early one morning wandering about the downtown streets, decided she was a runaway, and put her on a bus back to Tennessee.
Andrews proceeded to work with respectable right-to-life organizations until 1978, when she saw a flyer about a “sit-in” at an abortion mill. The idea excited her, but it was almost a year before she participated in her first rescue — in St. Louis.
The crux of the abortion issue is clear to Andrews: Babies are being killed and women exploited. We are called to defend, in a concrete manner, both mother and child. I Will Never Forget You chronicles how Andrews has carried out this defense. It is an account of how she has imitated Christ’s paschal action, willingly absorbing pain that might otherwise fall on others — the pain of “flexicuffs” biting into the wrist; of an overcrowded, lice-infested Baltimore jail; of the heat in Gumbo prison; of two years in solitary confinement; of a forced strip search; of hearing a homosexual assault going on in the next cell and being powerless to prevent it; of months, years absent from family and friends; and, most of all, of long absences from the Eucharist: “Imagine a friend, your closest friend, the person you love most in the world, being brutally killed because he loves you. He is dying for you — and you cannot be there. It is painful.” Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary is real, even dear, to Andrews — she carries it with her in her actions. She has given her life to God’s children, offering herself up on their behalf, holding nothing back. She has no job, no home. She is an itinerant life-saver.
If that is the totality of her work, what constrains Andrews from kidnapping abortionists and blowing up abortion clinics? Her restraint is found, again, in the imitation of Christ, whose infinite love compelled him to take on the human condition in order to transform it. Christ identified with humanity; Andrews, in turn, strives to identify with the unborn, actually to take on their condition.
The unborn child’s preeminent condition, which has made him or her a victim of the world’s sins and fears and rage, is an utter defenselessness. To a significant degree Andrews adopted this defenselessness during her famous Florida incarceration. When Judge Anderson sentenced her to five years for knocking over a suction machine, she abandoned legal ploys, bail bonds, and the seductions of reduced time for “good behavior” — and simply sat on the floor. Thereafter she had to be carried — literally — through the prison system: “When rulers use the appearance of law to enforce their edicts, that is a tyranny. And the only way to stop a tyrannical rule, with its mass murder, is to refuse to cooperate in every little way that we can.”
A lot of prolifers didn’t understand her nonco-operation. Even the hard-core Joe Scheidler admits in his Introduction that he wrote a “Dutch Uncle” letter to Andrews telling her to do whatever was necessary to get back to the streets and “lead the troops.” After all, the goal of the prolife activist is to save lives — a goal severely hampered when one is sitting in solitary month after month.
However, when Andrews takes the step into nonco-operation, she seemingly takes the step from “activist” to “prophet.” The cycle of violence whirls and whirls, picking up momentum gradually and ominously until it flings out into chaos. It stops only when the person, as person, refuses to co-operate. Such a refusal, however, puts one in an extremely precarious position: Not to co-operate with evil is to step in its way, just as Christ stepped in the way of original sin and paid with his life. Nonco-operation, then, means willingness to die, whether figuratively or literally.
Andrews has good reason to be relentless in resisting evil: If a mother cannot, is not allowed to, or is not encouraged to love the child within her own womb — flesh of her own flesh — then how the dickens are we going to love our enemies?
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